Tag Archives: basil

Rigatoni with Sicilian Summer Squash, Tomatoes, & Basil

I wish I had thought to take a photo of the Sicilian summer squash I found at the farmer’s market before I got inspired to cook it! Long, slender, with a crooked neck and pale, smooth skin, cucuzze (as these light green squash are known in Italy) are a summer delicacy in Sicily and Calabria. They have a more compact texture than most varieties of squash and a sweet, delicate flavor. Many Sicilian-Americans grow these squash in their home gardens, and if you are lucky, so might one of the farmers at the green market you frequent.

In the summer, Sicilians slow-cook the squash with potatoes, tomatoes, and onions, making a delectable minestrone of sorts, finishing it with broken spaghetti to thicken up the broth in the last few minutes of cooking. But pastas made with cucuzze abound; some feature the tender green squash leaves (known as tenerumi); others, like mine below, are flavored simply with tomatoes, onions, and basil. If you can get your hands on Caciocavallo cheese, a sharp, melting cheese akin to Provolone, use it instead of the Pecorino for a more authentically Sicilian flavor. And of course, if you can’t find cucuzze, simply use taut, small green zucchini instead in this recipe; it will still be delicious!

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the rigatoni:

  • 3 and 1/2 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 and 1/2 ounces semolina flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup water, plus extra as needed
  • 1/2 pound Sicilian summer squash (cucuzza), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

To cook and serve:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup) freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 12 basil leaves, torn



Make the rigatoni: Combine the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and salt on a counter. Make a well in the center and add the eggs to the well. Using a fork at first, draw the flour into the eggs. When all of the flour has been incorporated, begin kneading the dough by hand; knead until it is smooth and firm, about 10 minutes.

If the dough is dry, add a touch of water; if it is moist, add a touch of flour. Shape into a ball, dust with flour, and place under an inverted bowl on the counter; let rest 30 minutes to relax the gluten.



Using a pasta machine, shape the dough into rigatoni. We used a pasta extruder for this purpose. If you don’t have a pasta extruder, but you have a regular pasta machine, or a rolling pin, or a bottle, roll out into thin sheets and cut into tagliatelle, pappardelle, or whatever shape you prefer.

Set the cut pasta aside on several sheets of parchment paper, spread out and dusted with semolina flour so it does not stick, while you prepare the sauce. (You can also substitute 1/2 pound of dried pasta if time is short or you don’t feel like making fresh pasta.)

Make the sauce: Place the olive oil, garlic, chili, and onion in a deep, wide skillet large enough to accommodate the pasta later. Cook over medium heat until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the water and stir. Cover and cook 5 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the onion is soft.

Uncover, add the squash, and saute 5 minutes, or until the squash is just starting to soften. Add the tomatoes, season with the salt, and cook, covered, 10 minutes, or until the squash is soft and the tomatoes have broken down into a rich sauce, adding water as needed if the sauce dries out. There should always be about 1/4 cup of liquid in the skillet.

To cook the pasta: Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the rigatoni. Cook until shy of al dente. Drain, reserving at least 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.

Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the simmering sauce. Raise the heat to medium-high and saute until the pasta is al dente, adding more reserved pasta cooking water as needed to thin out the sauce and allow the pasta to cook through. Depending on how far from al dente the pasta was when you drained it, the sauteing step may take anywhere from 1 minute to as long as 5 minutes.

To serve: Stir in the olive oil, pepper, Pecorino, and basil, and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot, warm, or even at room temperature; this pasta is delicious even after it cools off!



Spaghetti al Cartoccio with Arugula, Tomatoes, & Garlic

Cooking ‘al cartoccio’ in Italian usually refers to baking in parchment or foil packets, but grilling al cartoccio is a great technique, as long as you use foil and not parchment. It opens up so many possibilities for outdoor cooking, including pasta on the grill.

Grilling pasta in aluminum foil packets allows you to forgo last-minute boiling and saucing of pasta; this is a great advantage when entertaining, since you can boil and sauce the pasta, and prepare the packets up to 3 hours ahead, then just pop them onto a hot grill (or in the cooler months, into a hot oven) a few minutes before you are ready to serve. It’s also a fabulous way to enjoy outdoor cooking when the craving for pasta strikes.

Since the pasta will cook further once it is on the grill, remember to cook it slightly under al dente so it is not overcooked by the time you pull the packets off the grill. And be sure to allow guests to open their own steaming packets at the table: the aroma exuded upon opening the packets will enthrall even the most jaded guest.

Serves 4

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches arugula, leaves only, washed, dried, and cut into fine, thin strips
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Pecorino Romano

For the pasta:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti



Make the sauce: Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a large pan. Set over medium heat and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, season with the salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices. Stir in the arugula until wilted and transfer to a large bowl; stir in the Pecorino and set aside.



Make the pasta: Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the spaghetti, and cook until the spaghetti are almost, but not quite, al dente, about 7 minutes (if using fresh spaghetti, cook less long, just until barely tender). Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

Toss the spaghetti with the sauce in the bowl and adjust the seasoning if needed. Stir in the 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking water; the spaghetti will dry quite a bit as it cooks later.

Cut heavy-duty aluminum foil into four large squares. Place the aluminum foil on the counter, shiny side up. Mound the spaghetti, along with its sauce and any liquid that has collected in the bowl, on one side of each piece of aluminum foil (if you don’t include the liquid in the packets, the spaghetti will come out dry after cooking).

Fold the short sides of the aluminum foil over first, then seal the long side of the aluminum foil tightly as well, rolling the foil over itself a few times so that the cooking juices cannot run out once the packets are placed on the grill. (The recipe can be made up to this point 3 hours ahead; do not refrigerate or the spaghetti will become tough in the refrigerator.)

Heat a grill on high for 10 minutes (or preheat the oven to 400 degrees).

Arrange the packages seam side up on the grill and grill for 5 minutes (or if baking, place the packets on a baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes), or until the spaghetti inside feels hot to the touch.

Place each aluminum foil packet on a dinner plate and serve immediately, letting guests open the packets at the table.


Cream of Fennel Soup with Basil & Parmigiano

This soup is one of my favorite ways to enjoy fennel: creamy in texture, gentle in flavor, and delicately colored, it owes its surprising depth to the enriching action of the Parmigiano rind that simmers along with the fennel. If you don’t have a Parmigiano rind on hand, add a splash of heavy cream after pureeing the soup.

Serves 2

  • 1 large head fennel
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 1 Parmigiano rind
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Trim the fennel. Cut the fennel into 4 wedges, discard the tough core from each wedge, and slice very thinly. Reserve about 1 tablespoon of the leafy, wispy fronds for the garnish.

Place the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the shallot, garlic, and fennel seeds. Set over medium-low heat; cover. Cook until the shallot is lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the thinly sliced fennel, season with the salt and pepper, and cover again.

Cook 15 minutes, or until the fennel is soft, stirring once in a while. Add the water and milk, and drop in the Parmigiano rind, making sure the rind is fully submerged in the liquid. Bring to a gentle boil and lower the heat to a simmer; cook, covered, 30 minutes, or until the flavors have melded and the fennel is very tender. Watch that the soup does not boil, or the milk will curdle. Discard the rind.

Transfer carefully to a food processor and puree until perfectly smooth. Return to the pot and warm to just below a boil. Cook, uncovered, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon; if the soup is too thick, add a little more milk or water as needed. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot, garnished with the basil and the fennel fronds.


Escarole and Egg Soup with Pesto and Crispy Pancetta

Soup: comfort in a bowl. In the winter, we eat soup at least once a day. Most of the time, we crave vegetable soups, full of chunky bits of goodness, with something to thicken the broth up: it can be a crushed potato, beans, or a roux. The soup below, thickened with beaten eggs, is a play on the spinach soup my husband grew up eating at home: his father Attilio cooked down spinach in broth until silky soft, then stirred in plenty of Parmigiano and beaten eggs just before serving. Here we use escarole instead of spinach, top it with crispy Pancetta for texture and meaty depth, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the eggs to lighten the flavor, and stir in pesto at the very end to brighten things up. Serve this soup with bread and salad, and you have a memorable meal fit for a chilly day indoors.

Serves 2
For the pesto:

  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves (about 1/2 large bunch)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 ounce (1/4 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

  • 1 ounce Pancetta, defatted and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • water as needed
  • 1 head escarole (about 1 pound), washed thoroughly and chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Make the pesto: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process to a fine paste; there may be some little basil strands here and there, because there is very little oil in this pesto, but that is fine. The purpose of this pesto is to lend flavor to the soup, not to make the soup creamy in texture, so a semi-chunky texture is fine. Remove to a bowl and lay plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto to prevent darkening. This can be done up to 2 hours before serving. Hold at room temperature until needed.

Make the soup: Place the Pancetta in a 2-quart pot. Set over medium heat and cook until the Pancetta is crispy and lightly golden, about 3 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Place the olive oil, onion, and garlic in the same pot in which you cooked the Pancetta. Set over medium heat and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often and adding a bit of water if needed to prevent scorching, until the onion becomes translucent. Add the escarole and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring often, until wilted and collapsed, about 8 minutes. Add the broth, season with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the escarole is silky and the soup smells rich and deep. The soup can be made up to this point 2 hours before serving and held at room temperature. Reheat when needed to the boiling point.

When you are ready to serve, beat the eggs with the lemon juice, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Return the soup to a boil. Pour in the eggs and let sit, undisturbed, until the eggs set, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir gently once or twice, being careful to leave the eggs in large fluffy clouds, swirl in the pesto, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve hot, topped with the crispy Pancetta.


Provolone & Sundried Tomato “Piadine”

I am taking liberties here by naming these crispy, flaky flatbreads piadine. Piadine are from Emilia-Romagna, thin breads flavored with lard and raised by baking soda, griddled to a golden color and folded around Prosciutto, salty cheeses, or greens, depending on the occasion and the appetite. The recipe below tastes like a hybrid between a piadina and a thin focaccia; to make it, you need a good quality flour tortilla (homemade or store-bought).

At my cooking school in New York City, I stuff flour tortillas with cheese and roasted chicken, or cheese and arugula, or cheese and sundried tomatoes, or cheese and… you name it! We serve these addictive “piadine” as finger foods, and no one can ever get enough of them. Everyone wants the recipe. So, finally, here it is: nothing could be easier.

You can freeze the piadine after stuffing and before baking, wrapped in parchment and enclosed in freezer-safe plastic bags; just defrost a few hours before you are ready to serve. They make a great meal with a green salad alongside, or impressive (and easy) finger foods when cut into triangles after baking, as in the photo here.

Makes 2 piadine (serves 1 as a main course, 6 as finger food)

  • 4 flour tortilla shells
  • 3 thin slices mild Provolone or fresh Mozzarella (3 ounces total)
  • 4 sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and minced
  • 2 pitted green or black olives, minced
  • 12 basil leaves, thinly sliced, or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees(preferably set on convection bake). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place 2 flour tortilla shells on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top each with half of the Provolone, sundried tomatoes, olives, and basil. Top each with a second tortilla shell.

Brush with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden and crisp. Serve hot, cutting each into quarters as a main course or into 12 triangles as finger food.


Beet Greens & Two-Cheese Ravioli in Light Tomato Sauce

We eat a lot of beets at home. My husband loves them roasted, and he is happiest when I serve them with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper as a salad. Sometimes I add walnuts, Feta cheese, a scattering of fresh herbs (dill or tarragon work best), thinly sliced onions, and a splash of sherry vinegar. Other times, I stir in grated garlic, chili flakes, cilantro, toasted sunflower seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a hint of red wine vinegar.

Since we eat so many beets, that leaves us with a lot of beet greens and beet stems. They never get discarded, and serve as inspiration for many meals. I boil the greens, then serve them with olive oil, lemon juice, and slivered garlic, or top focaccia dough with them before baking under a veil of Pecorino. As for the stems, they are delicious roasted: I boil them just a few minutes, then roast them with olive oil and grated Parmigiano, covered snugly under a sheet of parchment paper, for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. And I often prepare colorful beet greens and cheese ravioli, as below, napped in a light tomato sauce.

Even though the ingredient list looks daunting, the preparation is actually quite easy, so try this the next time you have beet greens at home. And if you have spinach but no beet greens, that works too!

Serves 6

For the dough:

  • 2 and ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter and trays
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs

For the filling:

  • ½ pound fresh beet greens (or spinach leaves), washed and finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¾ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

For the egg wash:

  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 8 large ripe plum tomatoes or 4 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 3 cups diced)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To cook the ravioli and serve:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Make the dough: Mix the flour and salt on a counter and shape into a mound. Make a well in the center and add the eggs to the well. Using your fingertips, work the flour into the eggs, then gather into a dough and knead by hand; add a little water if the dough is too dry or a little flour if it is too moist. Knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth, then shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and let rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the beet greens (or spinach) and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cool water and drain. Squeeze dry and chop. Reserve the pot of boiling water to cook the ravioli later.

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl, stir in the chopped boiled beet greens, and adjust the salt to taste if needed. Set aside.

Assemble the ravioli: Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Working with 1 sheet at a time and keeping the others covered, roll each piece out into a thin sheet using a pasta machine; the sheets should be nearly transparent after rolling. Be sure to lightly dust the sheets of pasta with flour every time you roll them through the pasta machine or they may stick or tear.


Brush 2 of the lasagna sheets lightly with the egg wash. Arrange the filling in small mounds about 1 inch apart on the 2 lasagna sheets you just brushed with the egg wash. Top with the remaining 2 lasagna sheets. Use your hands to press out any air pockets around the filling and seal the edges well. Cut into squares using a fluted pastry wheel. Spread the ravioli out on a lightly floured tray in a single layer and refrigerate until needed, covered with a clean, dry towel. (The ravioli can be shaped up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered with a clean kitchen towel, or they can be frozen for up to 1 month; if you freeze the ravioli, do not defrost them before dropping them into the boiling water, but allow 1 extra minute for cooking.)


Make the sauce: Place the olive oil and basil in a 10-inch saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 1 minute, or until the basil releases its aroma, then add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the suace is soupy, cook it, uncovered, for a few minutes. If it is too dry, add a bit of cool water to loosen it.

Cook the ravioli: Return the reserved beet greens cooking water to a boil. Drop in the ravioli and the 2 tablespoons of salt and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Remove to a heated platter with a slotted spoon (reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water). Gently toss the ravioli with the tomato sauce, add the olive oil, sprinkle with the Pecorino, and stir very gently since the ravioli are delicate. If needed, thin out the sauce with some of the reserved pasta cooking water.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the basil.


Roasted Chinese Eggplants with Olive & Tomato Salsa

I have never understood how someone could dislike eggplants. They are, to my mind, one of the most amazing vegetables (though they are technically a fruit) around: creamy when fried or slow-cooked, chewy when grilled, meaty when roasted… And the flavor itself is nothing short of miraculous in the summer, when the markets are filled with eggplants in every shade of purple and white, some plain, others streaked zebra or graffiti. I adore eggplants, and I believe anyone who says they don’t like them has never tasted a truly good specimen.

Here is one of the simplest ways to enjoy eggplant. I borrowed the flavors for the salsa from one I tasted in Liguria, but made mine bolder by adding raw onions and a touch of chili. If you favor more delicate flavors, top the eggplant with the salsa halfway through baking so it loses its direct potency, and finish with tiny dice of fresh Mozzarella when serving.

Chinese eggplants (and Japanese eggplants, which are quite similar) are slender and long, with few seeds and a sweet flavor. They have a thin skin, cook through faster than Western varieties, and are a good starter eggplant for anyone with a timid palate. Japanese eggplants are darker in hue than Chinese, and will work just as well in this recipe; use whatever variety looks good at the market.


Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

For the eggplants:

  • 4 Chinese (or Japanese) eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the salsa:

  • 1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 8 black olives, pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 12 basil leaves, very thinly sliced

Make the eggplants: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Lay the eggplant halves, cut side up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cut a cross-hatch pattern into each eggplant half, barely scoring the flesh. Brush with the olive oil and season with the salt. Roast in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until tender and creamy when pierced with a knife; the eggplants should still hold their shape. If using western eggplant varieties, the cooking time will be longer.

Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients and taste for salt. Adjust as needed.

To serve: Spoon the salsa over the warm eggplants and serve.



Heirloom Tomato & Basil Focaccia with Chili-Garlic Oil

It seems lately we’ve been craving pizza and focaccia and bread daily. In the summer months, when the markets offer so many juicy, perfect tomatoes, I find myself making tomato-topped focaccia more often than not (my other great weakness is herbed focaccia, especially rosemary).

Here is last week’s very summery focaccia. We ate it with an array of fresh and aged cheeses; roasted beets with walnuts and tarragon; steamed string beans splashed with olive oil, garlic, and parsley; and a refreshing green salad with lemon and olive oil. What more can you ask for? Oh, and we had amazing nectarines and fresh figs for dessert. We’re going to miss summer!!

Remember to allow 24 hours for the dough to rise in the refrigerator for best flavor.

Makes one 14-inch focaccia (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer)

For the dough:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1/3 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2/3 teaspoon sea salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon for sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water, plus extra if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 1 large or 2 small, juicy, ripe yellow or other heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, cut into thin strips


Make the dough: Place the flour, yeast, and 2/3 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add the water, and stir well. If the dough is too dry to gather around the spoon, add a bit more water by the teaspoon until the dough gathers into a soft mass around the spoon. If the dough is sticky, add a bit of flour by the teaspoon until it forms a cohesive, soft mass.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead vigorously for 10 minutes, or until it is very smooth and elastic. Try to add as little flour as possible to the dough as you knead it; the more flour you add, the denser the focaccia will be. It is all right if the dough sticks to your hands a little; knead it faster and it will tend to stick less. The dough is kneaded sufficiently when it is smooth and even in texture all the way through, and when it springs back when poked with a finger; it will also stretch about 6 inches without tearing when pulled apart with two hands.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it.

Turn it to coat with the oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until starting to increase in volume. Refrigerate 12 to 24 hours (a 24-hour rise yields a tastier dough). Return to room temperature when you are ready to shape the dough and bake the focaccia.

One hour before you are ready to bake the focaccia, and after it has returned to room temperature, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).

Lightly oil a 14-inch shallow pizza pan. Turn the risen dough out onto the oiled pan and using your fingers, push and flatten gently so it stretches out a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes (if you try to stretch the dough too far at this point, it will simply spring back, as the gluten needs to relax).

Uncover and flatten again so the dough extends and covers the entire base of the pan. Try to stretch it evenly so it does not tear anywhere or have thin patches. Brush with the tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Let rest 15 minutes, uncovered.

Make the topping: When you are ready to bake, thinly slice the tomato. Arrange decoratively on the focaccia dough, possibly without overlapping (be sure to use any of the delicious juices from the tomato; just pour any juices from the cutting board onto the dough). Season with the salt.

In a bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, and chili. Brush 1 tablespoon of the mixture over the focaccia dough, but try to use all the garlic at this point (ideally, you will have just olive oil left; raw garlic can be a bit jarring on the focaccia after baking).

Place the pizza pan on the hot baking stone and bake 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a plant mister, spray the focaccia three times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Be sure to close the oven door quickly each time or else the oven temperature will drop.

Remove from the oven, and brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with the basil. Cut into wedges and enjoy hot.


Potato Pancakes with Ricotta-Basil Pesto

These pancakes are neither crispy nor light. Rather, they are moist and fluffy, with delicately browned exteriors and a sweet, pure potato flavor. There are no eggs added, no flour, no leavening agents; they are essentially mashed potato patties browned in a hot skillet. I love them as a simple first course, but they also make a lovely side dish to roasted meats or poultry, and are very satisfying with assorted cheeses, cured meats, and a light green salad as a main course.

For the pancakes:

  • ½ pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peel on (2 small potatoes or 1 large potato)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing onto the spatula

For the pesto:

  • ¼ cup fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • ½ cup packed basil leaves, washed thoroughly and dried
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the pancakes: Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with cool water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes for small potatoes or 40 minutes for large potatoes. Drain and cool to room temperature, then peel and coarsely grate on the large holes of a box grater. Set aside until completely cool; ideally, let the grated potatoes rest at room temperature, uncovered, for 4 hours (or up to 12 hours) before cooking the pancakes, so the potatoes have a chance to dry out a bit; this will make the pancakes lighter.

Meanwhile, make the pesto: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. The pesto will be quite thick, which is intentional; if you prefer a more fluid pesto, as for coating pasta, add more extra-virgin olive oil with the motor of the food processor running until you achieve a consistency you like. Refrigerate the pesto until needed (up to 12 hours), covering the top tightly with plastic wrap so the pesto does not darken.

When you are ready to cook, add the salt and pepper to the potatoes. Mix to combine. Taste and adjust if needed; it is likely that they will need more salt. Compact the potato mixture into 4 even mounds on a plate and press with your hands to flatten.

Bring the pesto to room temperature when you are ready to serve, so its flavor is not muted by the cold of the refrigerator.

To cook the pancakes: Brush both sides with the olive oil. Warm a 12-inch nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame for 2 minutes, or until quite hot but not smoking. Add the potato pancakes and press gently with a wide spatula (brush the spatula first with olive oil to prevent it from sticking to the potatoes) to compact further into flat pancakes. Cook 5 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom. Turn and cook another 5 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom. Serve hot, with the pesto.

potato-pancake-plated 3750-

Crispy-Crust Pizza with Sausage and Ricotta

I had an excess of fresh ricotta and some spicy Italian sausage in the refrigerator this week and decided to build two meals around these ingredients: the pizza here, and a fabulous spaetzle. If your ricotta is runny and wet, set it in a strainer over a bowl to drain off water for a few hours in the refrigerator before using, or the pizza will be soggy once baked.

When making pizza, allow overnight rising for the dough to develop good flavor. Don’t rush the process and you will be rewarded with a memorable pizza with truly artisanal taste. I find baking the pizza on parchment directly on a hot baking stone is much easier than sliding pizza off a pizza peel onto a baking stone, and the difference in the crispness of the crust is not discernible.

To learn more about making pizza from scratch, join me in our upcoming pizza workshop on September 6 at noon.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the dough:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cups room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canned chopped Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1/4 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, finely crumbled
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Make the dough: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add enough room-temperature water (about 3/4 cups) to make a soft dough that rides the blade. Process for 45 seconds. Add a little water if the dough is dry or a little flour if it is sticky. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if you add too much flour, or not enough water, the pizza will be dense and heavy.

Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, shape into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to shape the dough, return the dough to room temperature before cutting it and shaping it.

About 1 and 1/2 hours before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 550 degrees (if your oven only goes to 500 degrees, that is fine too). The baking stone needs to get VERY hot for at least 1 hour before you bake your first pizza on it.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Shape into 2 balls on a lightly floured counter. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax, making stretching easier). Using your hands, shape into 12-inch circles; the edges should be slightly higher than the center.

Top the pizza: Place 1 dough circle on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet. Rub with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Top with 1/4 cup of the tomatoes and spread gently with the back of a spoon. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.

Top with half of the ricotta and then finally with half of the sausage; be sure the sausage is in tiny pieces as it needs to cook through in just a few minutes in the oven.

Use the upturned baking sheet to transfer the pizza (still on its parchment paper) to the baking stone in the oven. (In other words, use the upturned baking sheet almost like a pizza peel, to slide the parchment paper and pizza into the oven quickly).

Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and browned around the edges and the sausage is cooked. Top with half of the basil. Continue in the same manner with the remaining ingredients and serve each pizza as it emerges from the oven.